A Critical Analysis of "The Way to Rainy Mountain"
In The Way to Rainy Mountain N(avarre) Scott Momaday tries to reunite himself with his American Indian (Kiowa) heritage by embarking on a journey to Rainy Mountain in Oklahoma where he would then visit his late grandmother’s grave. Momaday holds degrees from both the University of New Mexico and Stanford University and is a professor of English at the University of Arizona. Although Momaday is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, critic, and academician, it is this critic’s opinion that Momaday has left the reader disappointed with his flow of writing and has possibly lost his ability to connect with his readers because he fails to describe his feelings in detail, especially for a nostalgic writing.
For example, Momaday begins his essay with a detailed and descriptive review of Rainy Mountain, description that engages the reader. “Great green and yellow grasshoppers are everywhere in the tall grass, popping up like corn to sting the flesh…,” wrote Momaday (814). While this sentence is a wonderful example of his gifted ability to be descriptive, when Momaday tries to paint the reader a picture of his grandmother as a child, he travels off the path by giving the reader a history lesson when he mentions, “…the Kiowas were living the last great moment of their history” (814). As the reader, I was eagerly awaiting some description of his grandmother as a child, not the Kiowa’s disposition on war or their surrender to the soldiers at Fort Sill. I was left with numerous questions: “Was she a curious child? Was she tall or short? Thin? Did she have many gifts? What was she like as a child?”
Momaday, early in his essay, confessed, “I want to see in the reality what she had seen more perfectly in the mind’s eye, and traveled fifteen hundred miles to begin my pilgrimage” (815). A pilgrimage has been said to be a spiritual quest for some kind of moral importance. Others believed it to be a journey to a shrine of importance based on ones faith or beliefs. Momaday provides very descriptive passages of the landscape he encountered to his special place, that of the Kiowa culture, such as: “The skyline in all directions is close at hand, the high wall of the woods and deep cleavages of shade…Clusters of trees, and animals grazing far in the distance, cause the vision to reach away and wonder to build upon the mind” (815); however, the reader might be left asking, “How is this affecting him personally?”. Momaday has been able to engage the readers’ imagination here, but he has not connected with them on a personal level to draw them further into his story. As the reader, I felt that Momaday was coming from more of an objective view instead of a personal one, while the description in places of The Way to Rainy Mountain are specific and fully developed, the reader fails to connect with Momaday’s emotional state of mind.
It was not until the ninth paragraph Momaday finally gave us a glimpse of what his grandmother had been like as a child when he said, “As a child she had been to the Sun Dances; she had taken part in those annual rites,… she was about seven when the last Kiowa Sun Dance was held in 1887 on the Washita River above Rainy Mountain Creek” (816), abruptly after which, Momaday steers the story in to another history lesson with, “Before the dance could begin, a company of soldiers rode out from Fort Sill under orders to disperse the tribe” (816). Some may not see this shift as a concern; however, I began to be discouraged to read any further. The flow of the story felt rocky with Momaday focusing so much on the detail of landscape, and his heritage, that I found it difficult to follow him when he threw in little tidbits about his grandmother and not depicting his emotional attachment. How did the landscape affect his pilgrimage?
Finally in the tenth paragraph, Momaday elaborates for the readers the connection between himself and his late grandmother when he shares:
I remember her most often in prayer. She made long, rambling prayers out of suffering and hope, having seen many things…the last time I saw her she prayed standing by the side of her bed at night, naked to the waist, the light of a kerosene lamp moving upon her dark skin…I do not speak Kiowa, and I never understood her prayers, but there was something inherently sad in the sound, some merest hesitation upon the syllables of sorrow (817).
Although this passage was what we had originally sought after in the third paragraph, Momaday’s delayed connection left this reader disconnected due to its belated arrival. Momaday’s postponed release of emotion continues throughout his essay.
For instance, Momaday shares with the reader, “When I was a child I played with my cousins outside, where the lamplight fell upon the ground and the singing of the old people rose up around us and carried away into the darkness” (818). I found this piece of information the only one that personally engaged me because Momaday finally had given the reader some inkling of real emotion that he himself had felt in stead of others such as: the Kiowa, or his grandmother. While engaging, I felt as if this evidence of emotion came very late in the story and did not flow effortlessly.
The ending of the story contained the end of Momaday’s pilgrimage. Again, he described the landscape in beautiful detail as he reached his grandmother’s grave, only to conclude the story with, “Here and there on dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away” (818). After struggling with the flow of writing, and the lack of emotional connection to Momaday in this piece, he then ends the story prematurely. He never divulged any insight to what it had felt to finally come to the end of his pilgrimage, if he had felt more connected to his heritage by reaching his destination or even to his grandmother. His conclusion felt abrupt and shortened, causing this reader to question the real point Momaday was trying to convey all along. Did proceeding on a fifteen hundred mile pilgrimage have anything to do with a personal quest, or did he simply have nothing better to do with his time? A pilgrimage is thought to have personal meaning. What did visiting his grandmother’s grave and traveling such a long distance mean to Momaday? Must the reader discover Momaday’s point on his or her own?
In The Way to Rainy Mountain Momaday takes the reader down a beautifully descriptive journey that contained his pilgrimage to his grandmother’s grave. From Momaday’s precise images of the landscape to his ability to accurately recall important pieces of the Kiowa’s history, there is no question in this critic’s mind that he is not able to paint a picture for the reader. Momaday provided sufficient detail in describing the landscape along his pilgrimage. Due to the emotional disconnection, his ability to fluently keep the reader interested, however, is debatable. Momaday told this story from what felt to be the opposite of a personal and special experience one would imagine a pilgrimage to represent. He failed to personally connect with the reader and, therefore, made reading this piece difficult to enjoy.
Momaday, N(avarre) Scott. “The Way to Rainy Mountain” The McGraw-Hill READER
Issues Across the Disciplines. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller. New York, NY 2008.